The Voter’s Speakeasy featuring unbiased reporting and insight into life at Project Vote Smart from our staff, interns, and volunteers.

Senate Majority Exercises “Nuclear Option”

2013 December 12 - Key Votes

by Hannah Burgess

On November 21, 2013, the Senate voted 52-48 to amend the rules regarding confirmation of executive and judicial nominees. The vote allows the Senate cut off debate on executive and most judicial branch nominations with a simple majority of 51, instead of a supermajority of 60 votes. The new rules do not apply to Supreme Court nominations, or to legislation. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) was able to exercise the “nuclear option” and secure the vote by invoking the common interpretation of Senate rules, wherein a simple majority is required to overturn or uphold rulings of the President Pro Tempore, which then become precedent. “The Senate is a living thing, and to survive it must change as it has over the history of this great country. To the average American, adapting the rules to make the Senate work again is just common sense,” said Reid, defending the move.

The rule change grew out of frustration over partisan gridlock that has been a major theme of the 113th Congress, as President Obama has battled against a Republican party that is increasingly determined to block major Democrat initiatives. The ability of the minority party to influence debate is a long-protected tradition in the Senate, although the rules have been amended previously. The most recent change came in 1975, when the required number of votes to end a filibuster was lowered from 2/3 to 3/5. Both parties have in the past used filibusters to obstruct the agenda of the opposite party ...

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